Saturday, June 1, 2013

A Review of "Inhabiting the Cruciform God" by Michael J. Gorman

Michael J. Gorman's work Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul's Narrative Soteriology, is one in a number of works seeking to reinterpret Paul's theology. Rather than defending traditional Pauline interpretation, or getting on the New Perspective bandwagon, Gorman offers a proposal that transcends other interpretive grids.

For Gorman, the center of Pauline thought is not to be found in forensic justification (Luther), nor is it to be found in the concept of covenant community (Wright). Rather, "theosis is the center of Paul's theology." (171) Theosis, for Gorman, is a thoroughly Christological reality, and can be called "Christification." Gorman's concept of theosis shares similarities with the Eastern Orthodox approach, but is not synonymous. For Gorman, theosis is primarily cruciformity. God's nature is cruciform, and thus theosis is living the cruciform life, mirroring God's self giving love. Gorman proposes that the Carmen Christi of Philippians 2:6-11 is Paul's "master story." This text serves as a lens through which Paul's theology is to be read. Gorman argues, convincingly I think, that the phrase "although he was in the form of God" can be read "because he was in the form of God." In other words, the incarnation is not contrary to God's normal manner of acting, but is thoroughly consistent with God's character. In fact, it is the ultimate revelation of God's character. Thus, in contrast to human perceptions of divinity which are linked with political power, God's power in shown in weakness. It is of God's essence and character to be self-giving. In Gorman's words, "divinity has kenotic servanthood as its essential attribute."(31)

There is a redefinition of the term "Justification" in Gorman's writing. For Gorman, justification is not a purely forensic reality, but is thoroughly participatory. Trying to overcome the division common in Pauline studies between juridical and participationist soteriology, Gorman contends that "Paul has not two soteriological models (juridical and participationist) but one, justification by co-crucifixion, meaning restoration to right covenantal relations with God and others by participation in Christ's quintessential covenantal act of faith and love on the cross."(45) Justification is a covenantal category, and it involves participation in Christ's death and resurrection. The believer, through faith, is incorporated into Christ and is "co-crucified" with Jesus. Through this crucifixion, covenantal relations are restored. This involves both the restoration of one's relationship with God, and the restoration of the relationship one has with fellow man. Gorman discusses Galatians 2, in which Paul connects justification with participation in Christ's death. This causes Gorman to conclude that "Justification by faith, then, is a death-and-resurrection experience."(69)

The exegesis that Gorman provides is challenging, and does point to a connection between justification and the death and resurrection of the believer. However, it is not entirely convincing. Gorman contends that justification is not a judicial term, and does so through the text in Galatians 2. However, he does not spend time exegeting various texts which would seem to put this idea into doubt. For example, Romans 8:33-34 is a text that has been used since the Reformation to defend a legal reading of justification. Paul writes, "Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn?" In this text, Paul contrasts justification with condemnation; the assumption is that both are legal terms that can be contrasted with one another. Because of justification, no charge can be brought against the believer. A detailed exegesis of this text would have to be done for Gorman's thesis to hold, which would demonstrate that Paul is not using legal categories here. Another text, which Gorman mentions only in passing, is Romans 4:4-5. "Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness." The contrast between faith and works, as well as the language of crediting in contrast to earning, point to a thoroughly Reformational understanding of justification. This text simply doesn't fit many of the contemporary readings of Paul. It is usually passed over without a lengthy discussion.

It's my contention that Gorman is correct about a number of points in this work. First, it is part of God's nature to be self-giving. In contrast to the Reformed conviction that God's own glory is his ultimate concern, Paul would agree with Luther that salvation through self-donation is God's "proper work." Gorman has also demonstrated that there is a closer connection in Paul's theology between justification and participation in Christ, specifically in his death and resurrection, than many Pauline interpreters have been willing to allow. Justification does involve a death and resurrection as Gorman contends. However, I don't think there are grounds for simply dismissing the traditional forensic approach to justification in Paul. This is especially clear in Romans 4:4-5 and 8:33-34, but can also be demonstrated elsewhere in his epistles. I contend that justification includes legal and participationist categories. When justified, the believer is imputed righteous by the righteousness of Christ. However, in light of Paul's participationist theology, this justification also involves a death and resurrection of the sinner through mystical union with Chist's life, death, and resurrection.

Gorman's work is challenging, and is refreshing in that he avoids many of the typical false dichotomies presented in contemporary Pauline scholarship. However, like much of the New Perspective, Gorman's work ultimately privileges certain aspects of Pauline thought over others, and ultimately misses the Reformation's understanding of Paul, which I still believe (unpopular as it may be) to be exegetically warranted.


Ryan Tinetti said...

Hi Jordan, newcomer to your blog. Good stuff, thanks.

This is a helpful and even-handed review. It's been a couple years since I read the Gorman book, but one thought I had at the time (and which your review reminded me of) is that perhaps it would be truer to say not that justification is by co-crucifixion, but faith. So that, justification is a forensic event and faith is a cruciform participation. Thoughts?

Jordan Cooper said...

Thanks Ryan. Interesting thought, and Gorman does connect faith to co-crucifixion along with justification. I'm not sure if I would identify faith with cruciform participation, but they are intimately connected concepts in Pauline theology.

Anonymous said...

I think you totally miss Gorman's point. He explicitly says that those who try and see two soteriological models in Paul are wrong, and that the theosis (cruciformity) is the way to connect these two models.